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The Palestinian Land Laws are Palestinian Authority (PA) laws that prohibit Palestinians from selling Palestinian territorymarker lands to Jews. These land laws were originally enacted during the Jordanian occupation of the West Bank (1948–1967), and are deemed by the Palestinian Authority as being necessary to prevent further expansion of Israeli settlements in the Palestinian territories and to "halt the spread of moral, political and security corruption". The law carries a sentence of the death penalty.


Israel captured the West Bankmarker from Jordanmarker and Gazamarker from Egyptmarker during the Six-Day War of 1967. Shortly after the war, Israel began establishing settlements in these territories in contradiction with legal advice, including from Theodor Meron, the Israeli Foreign Ministry's advisor.

In 2005, Israel dismantled its settlements in Gaza, but Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem, recognized as occupied Palestinian territory, still account, along with their security zones, for about 60% of the area. In the West Bank, also recognized as occupied Palestinian territory, settlements have continued to slowly grow and as of April 2009, included about 400,000 settlers. All Israeli settlements in the occupied territories have been declared illegal under international law, but Israel disputes this finding.

Palestinians argue that the growth of Israeli settlements compromises their ability to establish a viable state of their own in the territories, in accordance with the proposed two-state solution. In an attempt to prevent the further spread of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, the Palestinian Authority, invoking an earlier Jordanian law, announced in 1997 that the death penalty would henceforth be sought for Palestinians found guilty of selling their property to Jews. In April 2009, the PA reiterated its position that sale of property to Jews constitutes treason and is punishable by death.

The laws

A number of laws appear to have been employed by the Palestinian Authority in its attempts to limit the spread of settlements. In 1997, the PA announced that it would seek the death penalty for Palestinians selling land to Jews or Israelis pursuant to a 1973 Jordanian statute known as the "Law for Preventing the Sale of Immoveable Property to the Enemy". Under this statute, "the enemy" is defined as

... any man or judicial body [corporation] of Israeli citizenship living in Israel or acting on its behalf.

Article 4 of the statute states that:

The sale of immoveable property against the provisions of this law constitutes a crime against state security and well being, punishable by death, and the confiscation of all the culprit's immoveable and moveable possessions.

The statute additionally states that anyone who sells land to an alien (non-Jordanian or non-Arab) without permission from the government will also be subject to the death penalty.

Later in 1997, the PA began drafting a new law to replace the Jordanian statute, known as the "Property Law for Foreigners". Under the provisions of this draft proposal, the sale of land to "occupiers" was described as an act of "national treason", with "occupiers" defined as the "government of occupation [ie Israel], its civilian and military institutions and its individual citizens". The draft statute authorized the "maximum penalty" (ie death sentence) for Palestinians convicted of the offence, and life imprisonment for foreigners. It is not clear whether this statute was ever put into effect, but it appears it was not, possibly due to international criticism.

In the latest (2009) case in which a Palestinian was convicted of selling land to foreigners, however, it appears that some additional laws were used to obtain the conviction. The Jerusalem Post states that the defendant was convicted under a law prohibiting sale of Palestinian land to "the enemy" (possibly a reference to the old Jordanian law), as well as a Palestinian "military law" which "states that it is forbidden to sell land to Jews", and two earlier laws dating from the 1950s which forbad trade with the state of Israel.

While PA courts can impose death sentences, they cannot be carried out without the approval of the PA President. The current President, Mahmoud Abbas, has consistently refused to approve executions.


Sources differ on the number of Palestinians officially executed for the offence, with the Jerusalem Post stating that none have been executed while a BBC report indicates that there have been two executions. However, a number of extrajudicial killings have also taken place since the death penalty was first announced. In May 1997 for example, three Palestinians convicted under the statute were later found murdered. Human Rights Watch argued that the circumstances of the murders "strongly suggested official tolerance if not involvement" by the PA, citing as evidence "inflammatory statements" by PA Justice Minister Frei Abu Medein "which seemed to give a green light to violence against suspected land dealers." Medein is quoted as saying: "... expect the unexpected for these matters because nobody from this moment will accept any traitor who sells his land to Israel." According to the Jerusalem Post, "scores" of Palestinians have been murdered in the last thirty years for selling their property to Jews.

An additional consequence has reportedly been increased intimidation of Palestinian Christians, as many ordinary Palestinians have misinterpreted the law to mean prohibition on sale of property not only to Jews but to any non-Muslim. This misperception has been fuelled by a number of fatwas issued by Palestinian Muslim clerics in support of the PA's death penalty which fail to distinguish between Jews and Christians, but which simply condemn sale of property to "infidels" (ie non-Muslims).

Recent events

In early April 2009, it was reported that several Jewish businessmen from the United Statesmarker purchased 20 dunams (2 hectares) of land from Palestinians in the Mount of Olivesmarker area of Jerusalemmarker. The report prompted the PA to reissue its warning that sale of property to Jews constitutes "high treason" punishable by death. Sheikh Tamimi, Chief (Islamic) Judge of the PA, reminded Palestinians of an earlier fatwa against the practice. "The city of Jerusalem is the religious, political and spiritual capital of the Palestinians," he said. "The Jews have no rights in Jerusalem. This is an occupied city like the rest of the territories that were occupied in 1967." Fatah legislator Hatem Abdel Kader, an advisor to the PA Prime Minister, asserted that the ban on sale of property to Jews was still necessary as the Israeli government and settlers were mounting a "fierce onslaught" on the Arab sector in East Jerusalem, attempting to alter the demographic balance there by demolishing Palestinian homes. (East Jerusalem was annexed by Israel in the wake of the 1967 war, but the annexation has not been recognized by the international community). East Jerusalem, B'Tselem.

In late April, a Palestinian military court condemned a man to death by hanging for treason after he sold some land to Israelis. The death sentence requires the approval of the Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas, who is not expected to approve it.

Jewish National Fund and Israeli law in comparison with Palestinian laws

Israeli Law since 1960 has stipulated that land owned by the government or by the Jewish National Fund (also JNF or Keren Kayemet Le'Ysrael (KKL)), a private charitable organization working since before the establishment of Israel, could not be sold but only leased. The JNF, which owns approximately 14% of Israeli land, has under its charter the purpose of purchasing land for the settlement of Jews, and has interpreted this to mean that JNF owned lands should not be leased, at least on a long-term basis, to non-Jews. This has led several commentators to ascribe parallels between the Palestinian laws and those governing property in Israel.

Writing in the New York Times, Anthony Lewis stated:
As a practical matter, land used by Israeli Jews for home or business or farm is hardly ever sold to Arabs.
So the idea of Palestinians wanting to keep what land they have is not unusual.
In the Washington Post, Barton Gellman asserted that:
[The Palestinian law] is not without parallels, penalty aside, in Israel.
Keren Kayemet [the Jewish National Fund], a cooperative that owned most of the Jewish land in the [20th] century's first decades, "by its regulations could not sell land at all, and could not rent land except to Jews," according to historian [Anita] Shapira.
As recently as January ... one of Israel's two state-appointed chief rabbis, Eliahu Bakshi-Doron, issued a ruling of religious law forbidding the sale or rental of any Jewish land to Arabs.

The Israel Land Administration, which owns 93% of the land in Israel (including the land owned by the Jewish National Fund), refuses to lease land to non-Jewish foreign nationals, which includes Palestinian residents of Jerusalem who have identity cards but are not citizens of Israel. When ILA land is "bought" in Israel it is actually leased to the "owner" for a period of 49 years. According to Article 19 of the ILA lease, foreign nationals are excluded from leasing ILA land, and in practice foreigners may just show that they qualify as Jewish under the Law of Return.

Pro-Israeli media analysis group CAMERA remarked towards assertions that portray Israel as rejecting land sales to Israeli Arabs as being "extremely misleading, since, ... such land is not sold to Israeli Jews either, but is instead leased out by the [Israel Land Administration] ILA and is equally available to all citizens of Israel." CAMERA adds that Arab access to Government-owned land in Israel includes half their farming lands being leased from the ILA and that, "sometimes Israeli Arabs receive more favorable terms from the ILA than do Israeli Jews."

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